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Message from the Chancellor on Spring 2021 Commencement Event

The UH Hilo Spring 2021 Commencement videos will premiere at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 15 on the UH Hilo YouTube Channel and on our Commencement page.

This message was sent to all faculty and staff via email today. Please refer to the email to view campus maps.

Aloha UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.Mahalo to all of you, our faculty and staff, who have all worked together to help get our students over the finish line in a time of unprecedented challenges. I hope that you will join our students graduating this semester in our hybrid celebrations.

The UH Hilo Spring 2021 Commencement videos will premiere at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 15 on the UH Hilo YouTube Channel and on our Commencement page. This is a pre-recorded virtual presentation that includes messages from administration, name cards of students, our commencement speaker, and our student speakers. Everyone is welcomed to view the videos at any time following the premier.

Also on Saturday, May 15, the procession of students in their vehicles will begin at 10:00 a.m. in our Commencement Drive-thru Celebration. We anticipate approximately 200 students with about 50 students per 30 minute block. (A map was attached to today’s email.) We encourage faculty and staff to participate, and also note that this event is not open to the public, as our campus is still closed. Please be mindful that there will be temporary road closures and designated parking areas for this event (also on map in today’s email).

The livestream link will be available on our Commencement page to view the awarding of the diploma cover to each student as their name is announced with their name card also displayed.

Let’s congratulate our Spring Class of 2021.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, May 2021: Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Here in Hawai‘i we owe so much to our Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and here at UH Hilo, we honor those who worked tirelessly to establish our university.

Chancellor Bonnnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

In keeping with my previous columns on Black History Month, ‘Olelo Hawai‘i Month, and Women’s History Awareness Month, this month I would like to write about May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

The violent events in Atlanta on March 16 make this an even more important topic. The hateful murders that targeted hard working Chinese and Korean Americans inspires both sadness and anger, and my heart goes out to Asian and Pacific Islander communities both here in Hilo and across the state, as well as to all who empathize with victims of senseless violence.

Here in Hawai‘i we owe so much to our Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and here at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, we honor those who worked tirelessly to establish our university and who have supported it for decades.

What began as Asian History Month is now Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a name change to honor and celebrate the vast diversity Asian Americans and Pacific Island Americans. There are too many people and cultures within our local Asian and Pacific Islander communities to represent in a single month and certainly in a single column, so I would like to start by paying homage to some of the Asian Americans who served as head administrator at UH Hilo and who paved the way for much of who we are as an institution today.

The very first head administrator, when the campus was called the UH-Hilo Branch, was Frank T. Inouye, who served as director from 1952 to 1957. While leading the university, he oversaw the opening of the new permanent campus on Lanikaula Street with the construction of College Hall and a gymnasium. The two-year school had 155 students enrolled in arts and sciences courses in education, business administration, and engineering.

The very first chancellor at UH Hilo was Paul M. Miwa, who served from 1970 to 1975. Under his leadership, a new dormitory was built, enrollment topped 1,000, and the library tripled in size. The first four-year class graduated in 1971. There was a surge of hires, including deans, directors, and a librarian. The College of Agriculture was established.

Serving right after Chancellor Miwa was Chancellor Edwin H. Mookini, who served from 1976 to 1979. Chancellor Mookini, for whom our campus library is named, oversaw the opening of the Campus Center with a cafeteria, areas for student activities, and multipurpose rooms. UH Hilo’s enrollment increased to 1,700 students with 103 full-time faculty. The Vulcan men’s basketball team won its first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics district title (go Vulcans!).

The first woman to hold the post of head administrator at UH Hilo was Rose Y. Tseng, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2010. Under her leadership, enrollment increased 43 percent, and external funding increased 600 percent. New classroom, laboratory, and student life buildings, the first in 20 years, were built. Several new undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs were established.

I hope these leaders can serve as role models for our current students, over half of whom identify as having Asian or Pacific Island heritage. These students are a big reason why year after year UH Hilo is ranked as the most ethnically diverse national university in the country (U.S. News and World Report). And while diversity as a whole goes beyond racial and ethnic identity to include gender identity, sexual orientation, one’s unique abilities and challenges, and one’s background and lived experience, our Asian and Pacific Islander students play a big role in who we are as a unique and valued institution of higher education.

So hats off to our Asian and Pacific Islander students, staff, faculty and administrators, past and present, for all their contributions to our university, our island and our state. In the spirit of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we honor the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched our university’s history and are instrumental in its future success. Their contribution to the legacy of UH Hilo is a powerful antidote to hate and ignorance.


Bonnie D. Irwin

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Chancellor’s Update on Fall 2021 Semester

This message from Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin was sent to the UH Hilo community on April 29, 2021.

Aloha UH Hilo ‘ohana,

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.Believe it or not, we are less than four months away from the beginning of the fall 2021 semester. I know you are all thinking of spring finals right now, but I also know many are making their fall plans. The prospects certainly look better for fall 2021 than they did for fall 2020. More and more people are getting vaccinated and the COVID cases are being kept low on Hawai‘i Island. As we plan for our campus reopening to more in-person activity, the health and safety of our community remains our highest priority alongside keeping students on track toward their graduation.

We face two challenges in re-opening our campus to more in-person activities: vaccination rates and physical distancing recommendations. We had to set the fall course schedule in late March and now in late April, we still have not received new guidance from the CDC or the Hawai‘i Department of Health on whether we can reduce the 6-foot physical distancing. That requirement reduces the number of people we can get into a classroom by two-thirds. As more people get vaccinated, there is a probability that those distances will be reduced.

Many of our classrooms are set up for a hy-flex (some in-person, some online) format, and we may be able to accommodate more students in the face-to-face portion of the class as the distancing requirements are lessened. Our current breakdown of classes is:

  • 54.13% entirely online
  • 15.33% entirely face-to-face or in-person
  • 18.67% some in-person and some online (hybrid)
  • 6.67% simultaneous in-person and online (hy-flex)
  • 5.2% Variable: Internships, thesis, or other individualized study

Because we know that many students are registering for classes based on these modalities, we cannot change them dramatically, but we will continue to work with faculty and staff on providing more face-to-face activity. This is accompanying further increasing our campus housing capacity so that we can accommodate more students in residence.

We are also currently working toward re-opening our campuses to the public. I hope to soon be able to announce a schedule for re-opening the Performing Arts Center and the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center as well as a projected date for re-opening our athletic competitions for spectators. Student organizations will once again host in-person events, faculty will be holding more in-person office hours to meet with students outside of class, and academic departments will be offering more activities on campus.

The UH System is also considering the possibility of requiring vaccines for participating in some in-person activities. No firm decisions have been made and this decision will depend on many factors, including state health department guidance. We will keep you informed via regular email communications and periodic Zoom town halls throughout the summer. In the meantime, get a vaccine if you can.

I appreciate your patience, students and employees alike, as we work toward having more of you back on campus. We are looking forward to a vibrant and active fall semester!

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

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Chancellor’s Remarks at Lā Honua Earth Day Symposium: Environmental Sustainability at UH Hilo

Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin delivered these remarks at today’s Lā Honua Earth Day Virtual Symposium.

Aloha Kākou,

Chancellor Bonnnie Irwin
Bonnie D. Irwin

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is honored to once again host the Earth Day Fair with our partners at Hawai‘i Community College. I am pleased to be with you today to share some of what we are doing in the realm of environmental sustainability at UH Hilo. As a university that works to promote both Native Hawaiian and island values, we take our environment very seriously indeed and we do what we can to protect the ‘āina. In addition to our values, our mission, “One learns from many sources,” reminds us that the ‘āina has much to teach us, and if we want future generation to also learn from our environment, we need to do what we can to protect it.

UH Hilo Sustainability Committee

The UH Hilo sustainability committee works across the campus to develop and enact goals, metrics, and plans to increase sustainability in the following areas: Operations, Curriculum, Research and Scholarship, Campus and Community, and Cultural Connections, in order to meet the energy reduction (carbon neutral by 2050) and associated targets set forth in the UH System Sustainability Policy. In addition to the faculty, staff, and student committee members, I am grateful for the support we receive from the UH System Sustainability Office and our VISTA volunteer.


In the area of operations, we have installed LED light fixtures in several of our buildings. We also have increased the number of E-vehicle charging stations on campus to support those members of our ‘ohana who have chosen to drive zero-emissions vehicles. We have installed battery storage in the Science and Technology Building and inverter-style AC systems in several buildings. All of these efforts help us to reduce our carbon footprint. On the horizon will be the installation of more photovoltaic panels on campus.

Local-First Meals

We continue to work with Sodexo to have local-first entrees at least one day a week and are interested in expanding this as we return to more in person operations in the fall. Offering local foods on campus is both good for the environment and our health. This also aligns with the university being a Blue Zones Project approved worksite. I took the #livelongerbetter pledge today—have you?


We have an ambitious composting program that utilizes food waste, yard waste, and shredded paper. This program employs student workers and supplies compost for campus gardens at UH Hilo and Hawaii Community College. This work is also aligned with work in our AG 263 composting course, which allows students in that class to have hands-on experiences.


Which leads me to our curriculum. We have 27 courses that are designated as sustainability courses, and faculty are working toward creating a sustainability certificate. This will be an asset for students wishing to pursue a career related to sustainability and will be an important milestone in our journey to gain recognition for our sustainability efforts through the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System.


A number of faculty and students are doing research related to sustainability issues. There are really too many to name, but I do want to highlight Professor of Biology Becky Ostertag, whose work in tropical ecology and conservation has recently been recognized with her election as a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America, a high honor for scholars in her field. In our College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, a senior weed science class recently drafted a research plan for weed suppression, and in another project our agriculture faculty and students are looking into whether we can create jet fuel from sugar cane, a project that could pay both economic and environmental dividends.

Campus Gardens

A number of people on campus are working on the landscape itself. We have recently published an inventory of the gardens at UH Hilo on our website. As the campus reopens to the public in the coming months, we will be able to once again invite back volunteers to help us improve and maintain these beautiful spaces. We seek to remove invasive species and replace them with more native plants.  This is both good for the ‘āina, but also provides a learning opportunity for many of our students as well as our local community. If you follow my posts on Instagram or Twitter, you know that I like to photograph plants and flowers, so the gardens are dear to my heart. Of these many spaces, I want to highlight one in particular, a rather new effort.

Native Forest Restoration Project

On the makai side of Hale‘ōlelo, we have seen many changes in the last year with the creation of the Ululaumāhie Native Forest Restoration Project. Its primary objective is education through the perpetuation of traditional Hawaiian knowledge with an emphasis on cultural benefits and strategies for forging stronger partnerships to increase the public perception of the value and benefits of urban trees through culture-grounded mālama-‘āina -based conservation education. This project also dovetails with and fulfills UH Hilo’s campus-wide plan to further indigenize the university learning environment.


I hope this view into UH Hilo has been enlightening. We are working to partner more with ongoing community efforts as well as with our colleagues at Hawai‘i Community College. This event is an example of that kind of outreach and partnership, and I hope that next year, we will be able to once again host a lot of the earth day celebration in person on our campus. We still have a long way to go, but with the energy and enthusiasm around sustainability that I have witnessed on campus, I am optimistic about the future of this work.


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